Last month, the State Board of Education considered the first application for a pupil activity permit from a felony ex-offender holding a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE). Created by Senate Bill 337 in 2012, the CQE process allows persons who have a previous felony or misdemeanor conviction to apply to the court in their county of residence to lift collateral sanctions that prohibit an individual from being considered for employment in certain fields, including education. As of May 20, 2015, just over 300 CQEs have been issued in Ohio.
An individual who has served time in a state correctional institution or has spent time in a residential or non-residential program funded in whole or part by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitations and Correction (ODRC) can petition ODRC or the common pleas court in his or her county of residence for a CQE. If an application is made to ODRC, the petition is forwarded to the common pleas court in the individual’s county of residence. The petition can be made one year from the individual’s release date if the underlying offense is a felony, and six months from the individual’s release date if the underlying offense is a misdemeanor. Upon receipt of the petition, the common pleas court must notify the prosecutor of the county in which the individual resides of the petition. The court must also attempt to determine all other courts in Ohio in which the individual has pled guilty to or been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor other than the underlying offense, and provide notification to those courts of the pending petition.
In reviewing the petition for a CQE, the common pleas court must review the individual’s petition and criminal history, all filings submitted by the prosecutor and victim, and all other relevant evidence. The court may order any report, investigation, or disclosure by the petitioner it believes is necessary to reach its decision. The court may, at its discretion, issue a CQE if it finds that all of the following are established by a preponderance of the evidence:
- Granting the petition will materially assist the individual in obtaining employment or occupational licensing.
- The individual has a substantial need for the relief requested in order to live a law-abiding life.
- Granting the petition would not pose an unreasonable risk to the safety of the public or any individual.
A CQE is automatically revoked if the holder is convicted of or pleads guilty to a felony offense committed after the issuance of the certificate.
When granted, a CQE lifts the automatic bar of a collateral sanction and permits the State Board of Education (the “State Board”) to issue a license to someone convicted of a felony if the State Board determines such action is appropriate. The State Board must decide on a case-by-case basis whether to issue a license to individuals holding a CQE. Similarly, a school district may employ individuals it is otherwise barred from employing under R.C. 3319.39, if those individuals present a valid CQE to the district. Employers that hire an individual with a CQE have immunity for claims relating to the underlying offense in hiring negligence lawsuits if the employer knew of the CQE at the time it hired the individual.
In the first permit request from an individual holding a CQE that has been presented to the State Board, the State Board accepted the recommendation of Cincinnati Public Schools regarding a volunteer coach’s application for a pupil activity permit. Jeffrey Cargile had been a long-time volunteer with one of the district’s high schools. The Ohio High School Athletic Association’s rule change requiring volunteers to obtain permits brought to light that he had several convictions, including a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence in 1996 and felony conviction for abduction in 2003. A hearing officer recommended the State Board deny Cargile’s request for a permit because he had numerous convictions. The high school and school district, however, had provided several letters in support of Cargile’s application for a permit.
The State Board ultimately voted to issue a pupil activity permit to Cargile, but restricted the permit to the high school at which Cargile currently volunteers. The State Board also made the permit conditional on Cargile’s submission of quarterly reports to the Ohio Department of Education verifying that he has no new arrests, criminal charges, or convictions, and that he has not engaged in any immoral acts, incompetence, negligence, or conduct that is unbecoming to his position.
More information about CQEs, including a list of individuals holding a CQE, can be found here on the ODRC’s website.